Sunshine in Madigan’s 13th Ward? Sort of — but it sure wasn’t in the forecast

It was as if Madigan was so humiliated by his own organization screwing it up the first time that he just decided to end the controversy and put the whole matter behind him. If only by accident, that more open process that I had disparaged ended up being fruitful.

SHARE Sunshine in Madigan’s 13th Ward? Sort of — but it sure wasn’t in the forecast
Former House Speaker Michael Madigan attends a Democratic committeepersons meeting to decide who will take over his House seat in February.

Former House Speaker Michael Madigan attends a Democratic committeepersons meeting on the Southwest Side to decide who will take over his House seat on Thursday.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

When four Democratic committeepersons not named Mike Madigan issued a press release last week demanding an open process to replace him as state legislator, I scoffed cynically and responded with an intemperate email.

What was the point, I wondered? In the first place, Madigan — by law — controlled 56% of the weighted vote to pick his replacement. As a mathematical certainty, his was the only vote that counted.

On top of that, the four seeking the open process were known to be Madigan allies. What purpose, I asked, would be served by seeking additional candidates, other than to allow those allies to distance themselves from Madigan’s pre-ordained result?

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All of which shows how much I know, or more to the point, how little.

This, of course, was before Madigan’s chosen candidate, a 13th Ward flunky named Edward Guerra Kodatt, imploded within two days of his Sunday selection for unspecified “allegations of questionable conduct.”

The result being that Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar, 39, a person with no apparent political affiliation with Madigan beyond living in his ward, will now replace him.

Rather than reopen the nominations for the benefit of another member of his vaunted 13th Ward operation, dozens of whom must have aspired to the position, Madigan chose to go with the person who had finished second in Sunday’s voting, Guerrero-Cuellar.

It was as if Madigan was so humiliated by his own organization screwing it up the first time that he just decided to end the controversy and put the whole matter behind him.

If only by accident, that more open process that I had disparaged ended up being fruitful.

Just like that, Madigan gave up control over a seat he had clung to zealously for 50 years.

Even though he’d announced his intention in advance, it was still a little stunning to see it happen in person Thursday morning at the Stanley Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, which happens to share the same building as Madigan’s political operation.

The entire do-over took less than five minutes, followed by an even shorter Q&A with reporters.

If Madigan was embarrassed by the turn of events, he was careful not to show it.

“Proper questions were asked,” Madigan said when pressed over how his vetting process had failed to turn up the “questionable conduct” that caused him to force Kodatt’s resignation.

“I don’t plan to speak to the background questions,” Madigan said, meaning he would not illuminate what it is that Kodatt did to lose his trust.

I’m curious about that like everyone else, but I can’t honestly say we deserve the details unless an accuser chooses to share them.

What I find nearly as interesting is that Guerrero-Cuellar may actually have gotten the job ON THE MERITS, as hard as that is to believe.

Two sources told me Guerrero-Cuellar was NOT recruited to apply for the position by Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd), the only committee member to vote for her at Sunday’s original selection meeting.

Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th) looks on as Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd) asks a question during a Southwest Side meeting Sunday to choose who will take over Madigan’s House seat.

Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th) looks on as Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd) asks a question during a Southwest Side meeting Sunday to choose who will take over Madigan’s House seat.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Tabares, who has been closely tied to Madigan since entering politics as a state legislator, had pushed the bid for an open process and urged multiple people to apply. Guerrero-Cuellar was not among them.

But after hearing the presentations and going through the resumes of the applicants, Tabares decided Guerrero-Cuellar, who most recently was supervising a COVID-19 contract tracing program for Envision Community Services, was the best choice and nominated her, we’re told.

I know. I have trouble believing it myself.

Guerrero-Cuellar told reporters she applied for the position “just to be hopeful,” knowing the math was against her.

At the same time, Guerrero-Cuellar is not exactly nobody that nobody sent.

She managed the 2018 Cook County commissioner campaign of Angie Sandoval, daughter of the late-Sen. Martin Sandoval, who died of COVID-19 after pleading guilty to federalcorruption charges.

MADIGAN2_022621_09.jpg

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

I can’t visit the sins of the father on the daughter — or the daughter’s campaign manager. Still, it suggests that somebody sent her, possibly to set up a campaign in 2022. Now, she’ll be the incumbent.

“In my opinion, she’s a fantastic choice,” said political operative Victor Reyes, who nonetheless wasn’t taking credit for being that somebody.

Neither Tabares, nor Guerrero-Cuellar, come out of the wing of the party led by U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who for many years has engaged in a mutual non-aggression pact with Madigan.

This may foreshadow Tabares trying to play a larger role in Southwest Side politics in the future.

The Madigan political operation is by no means dead, but if it can’t find its own young Mexican-American to bring to the forefront in the overwhelmingly Latino district, it’s not going to last much longer.

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